Where to begin when you take up the role of caregiver

Becoming a caregiver is not something we usually plan for. Most often, it happens out of the blue when a loved one receives an unexpected medical diagnosis or has an accident when they are elderly or frail.

 

Being thrust into the role of caregiver can feel overwhelming, surreal, and isolating. You might be caught off-guard, angry, or in denial, and that’s okay. Give yourself time to process it and reach out to your family and friends for support. You’ll get through this, one step at a time.   

Where to begin when you take up the role of caregiver

Becoming a caregiver is not something we usually plan for. Most often, it happens out of the blue when a loved one receives an unexpected medical diagnosis or has an accident when they are elderly or frail.

 

Being thrust into the role of caregiver can feel overwhelming, surreal, and isolating. You might be caught off-guard, angry, or in denial, and that’s okay. Give yourself time to process it and reach out to your family and friends for support. You’ll get through this, one step at a time.   

Whether you’re suddenly caring for a spouse, parent, child, sibling, or friend, the newfound responsibility of caring for someone you love can feel overwhelming and leave you wondering how on earth you’re going to get through this. 

 

Like many other caregivers, you might find that googling ‘my mother has cancer what do I say’ or ‘my husband is dying what can I do’ doesn’t give you the answer or solace you’re searching for. Still, there are some proactive ways to help you navigate your caring journey with resilience. 

 

Come to terms

Your initial days as a caregiver will undoubtedly be emotional.

 

Violet Guide Practice Manager, Wendy Stocks, says being thrown into the role of caregiver without any experience and not knowing what to do can be overwhelming.

 

“Before you can focus on anything else, it’s important to give yourself time and space to adjust.

 

“Violet Guides can help you put the flurry of panicked activities aside and focus on what matters most in this situation. They’ve been there before. They know what it’s like to suddenly become a caregiver for someone in the last stage of life so you’ll be supported by someone who really understands.”

 

Get practical

Sorting out the practical side of things can soften the impact of the days ahead and help you focus on your own wellbeing too. 

 

It helps to have a ‘to-do list.’ So, get a diary or a binder and map out the essential things like:

  • Medical appointments 
  • Medication
  • Care needs
  • Alternative therapies such as nutrition, naturopathy, and acupuncture
  • Household maintenance
  • Care of minors (if applicable) 
  • Finances
  • Legal matters
  • Important contacts.

Having all the things you need to know in one place makes it easy for you to refer to, and for someone else to take over from you in an emergency.

Ask for help

While you may be the primary caregiver for your loved one, you don’t need to do this alone.

 

Terri Soller, Managing Director of leadership capacity-building organisation Conversus Leaders, says caregivers can find resilience in their new role by “tapping into resources at our disposal and,” she says. “This includes being able to ask for help when needed.”

 

Establishing your own support network will help you get through the tough days and find peace and joy in the days between.  

 

  • Create your own care team. Call on your friends, family, and community to help. You’re not imposing. They’re probably waiting to help out. Asking for help might feel uncomfortable at first, but letting them know what you need can ease the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual load of constantly caring for someone in the last stage of life. And it will save them from saying “if you need anything, just ask”.
  • Consider the other types of practical help you will need as your loved ones health declines. Help looks different for everyone at different times. You might need support from your GP, social workers, therapists, Violet Guides, private caregivers, allied health professionals, hospices, and palliative care throughout your caring journey. Choose the additional support that feels right for you and your situation. 

 

Take care of yourself

Looking after yourself might be the last thing on your mind, but being mindful of your own needs will benefit you and the person you’re caring for, now and in the long run.  

 

As a caregiver, setting aside time for yourself can protect you from compound stress and carer burnout. You can build resilience by ‘living’ in the moments between intense caring and normality. 

 

“You need to take care of yourself. Even ringing a friend every day, a cup of tea, or taking your dog for a walk.” - Beate cared for her mother who died from pancreatic cancer aged 74.

 

Prioritise your own health and wellbeing with small self-care rituals such as: 

  • Nurturing your body. Eat healthy food, get as much sleep as you can, and exercise – even if it’s just a 10-minute walk around the block. 
  • Giving yourself the gift of time. Find small moments each day just for you to decompress and release, and make them sacred. Just 15 minutes at the beginning and end of each day to breathe and reconnect with yourself can help you tune in to your thoughts and relieve your stress. 
  • Practising gratitude (finding something small or big to be thankful for every day can help you feel stronger and more optimistic no matter how hard things get). 

“Definitely take time and get out of the house, and try and clear your head. Because it’s just so valuable. It can change your perception for the rest of the day.” - Geraldine’s daughter died at the age of 34 after living for 5 years with a rare form of stomach cancer.

Caring for someone in the last stage of life can be one of the most challenging experiences you will face. Of course, there will be difficult moments, but there will also be opportunities for a greater connection with yourself and your loved one. 

 

Many caregivers find the act of caring gives them a greater sense of meaning and purpose, and a stronger relationship with the person they’re caring for. Re-framing your story about your role as a caregiver to someone at the end of life, and honouring the tender moments that arise, can help you cope with the unknown moments ahead. 

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